Early learning centre

Broomhall Nursery: Mandy Squire helps Lamar Abdullah (3) to make an anniversary cake
Broomhall Nursery: Mandy Squire helps Lamar Abdullah (3) to make an anniversary cake

TOAST and dripping for lunch and an afternoon nap on a wooden bed you’d carry outside, along with all the other children.

If it was raining you’d have your nap in a shed, if not you’d be in the open air, wrapped up in a cotton blanket, from February until November.

That was the philosophy of Broomhall Nursery School in its early years: fresh air, healthy living, ‘wholesome food and happy companionship’ as the Nursery School Association put it at the time.

“This was a pioneering place 80 years ago,” said current head Gill Peacock. “Broomhall was one of the first nursery schools in the city.”

It is now the oldest city nursery school, following the closure of Denby Street.

On Saturday, Broomhall Nursery School and Children’s Centre will celebrate its 80th school year with a garden party from 11am to 3pm off Broomhall Road. There’ll be food and drink, music ranging from skiffle to jazz to a choir of pupils aged from three to four-and-three-quarters, games from the past and an exhibition of memorabilia.

“The garden party is for anyone with a relationship with Broomhall over the last 80 years,” said Gill. “There‘ll be photographs, a special newspaper, and we’ll be showing a DVD with video footage of the 1930s and 40s.”

Eightieth anniversaries are usually commemorated with oak, she added, so in the afternoon the council’s director of children, young people and families, Sonia Sharp, will plant an oak tree in the grounds, assisted by some of the school’s earliest and most recent pupils.

The nursery school actually opened in the autumn of 1930 but at the exact time of its 80th birthday last year the Victorian building was in the throes of rebuilding work, so staff decided to celebrate the birthday at the annual garden party towards the end of the 80th academic year.

Celebrations have been over a year in the planning, with an organising team comprising all the nursery’s 30 staff (many of whom have worked at Broomhall for 20 years or more) and around 20 parents and supporters.

Former pupils will be able to find their names in the old school registers and there’ll even be a ‘wash house’ set up, complete with soap and water, to have a go at pre-machine washing.

Gill hopes former pupils will celebrate the anniversary and reminisce about their days at the nursery.

There have been some changes at Broomhall, however.

There’s still lots of outdoor activities but the paddling pool has now been replaced by a staff car park and the nursery is now also a SureStart Children’s Centre.

The centre now caters for over 150 young children under the age of five and their families. Now many local people visit for family activities including the toy library, baby massage, breastfeeding advice, family health checks, meetings for childminders and sessions to support families in various ways.

In the 1930s, one of the aims was to help families in conditions of poor housing, with instruction about how to wash, brush your hair and clean your teeth. There were regular visits by the school nurse and dosings of cod liver oil.

During the Second World War the buildings were damaged by a nearby bomb and some pupils and staff were evacuated for a time. The nursery also enabled mothers to carry out war work in the factories, said Gill.

“In those days they did music and playing outdoors and playing with water and sand and lots of lovely activities that children still enjoy today.

“Children are children and children learn through first-hand experiences of all those sorts of things. Many aspects of what we do here haven’t changed but you could say the way we do it and our understanding of why we do it has come on.”

Over the years, students have visited from all over the world to learn about nursery education Sheffield 10 style.

Families and pupils also have links to many other countries now. Twenty-four languages are spoken by Broomhall families and Gill sees the school’s diversity as a “real asset.”

“It reflects the world we’re living in. All our families want the best for their children yet their starting point is different, their own experiences of family life and understanding of it can be very different.

“But all our children want to do is to come in and learn and play and make friends and form relationships.”

This is an important time for nursery education with a huge variety of providers and a perception that nursery education is an expensive commodity.

Gill hopes that parents, professionals and all those with an interest in nursery education will let the authorities know what services are required in the difficult financial climate.

When she looked back at the aims of the nursery in 1930, there was much that was familiar.

Along with learning through play, fresh air and ‘happy companionship’, there were also the key priorities of the modern Children’s Centre established in 2005 – promotion of learning, health and emotional wellbeing.

“It’s interesting to read the school logs and see those were the founding principles of the nursery 80 years ago,” said Gill.

Tel 272 1453; www.broomhallnursery.org.uk.